• Joey

Internalized Homophobia and Daily Life

Many things in life are incredibly uncomfortable to address - white privilege and systemic racism, gender inequality, that awkward stage in your adolescence when you were a little too obsessed with boy bands. All silliness aside, confronting these issues head on in a safe space is one of the greatest tools for personal growth, and we genuinely hope that The Next Door Daddies offers a place for exactly that. Internalized homophobia is one such issue that we feel is not spoken of nearly enough both within and outside of the LGBTQ community.

What is internalized homophobia?

In his book The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world, Alan Downs simply defines internalized homophobia as the process of a queer person internalizing shame because of perceived difference. When the straight, cis world is held up as the societal norm, anyone who identifies outside of this norm will naturally feel alienated, excluded, and othered. This practice can manifest itself into a number of destructive characteristics.

What does internalized homophobia look like?

As internalized homophobia can potentially show itself in a range of responses such as low self-esteem, isolation, bias, and even substance abuse, I have decided to share my own personal experience. The greatest and most obvious evidence in my story is the fact that I could not come out until I was in my 30’s. I have spent many hours with myself and with professional help discussing why it was that I could not accept myself earlier in life. Although I did grow up Catholic, I did not have the crippling religious dogma that many have above them. It was not as though I was not exposed to gay people, as I grew up performing in theatre and had great examples of healthy gay relationships. I had amazing parents and extended family who gave me no reason to believe they would leave my life if I were gay. For me, the greatest factor for my delayed coming out was my own internalized shame.

I grew up in a time when the phrase “that’s gay” was used to describe anything unfavorable. I grew up in a time when my school had one out gay student, and gay representation in the media was often as a comic trope or a tragic character succumbing to disease or hate crimes. I could not be that! I could not survive as someone who is either constantly made fun of or who would be hated for his very existence, and even more, I was ashamed that I was. Any time an inkling of femininity would creep up, I felt the need to suppress it, to deny it, to destroy it from being a part of me. That ultimately led me to a life of denial, a life that caused me and others great pain.

Even after coming out and living in my truth, I can admit that the remnants of internalized homophobia are still being worked through. For example, shortly after I came out, I felt this great pressure to define myself as a gay man. What tribe do I belong to? Am I masc or fem? Am I a twink or a bear? Internalized homophobia reared its head when I first turned my nose up at dating feminine guys, drag culture, and elements of the LGBTQ community that I did not understand, proclaiming, “I’m not that gay.” With the help of some wonderful friends and intense introspection, I recognized that I was holding on to the traditional image of masculinity because it was my last connection to the heteronormative life. I may love a man, but I’m still masculine so I’m not That different. I was still denying parts of myself, still suppressing parts of who I am, and still not allowing myself to explore parts of the world that I had deemed as “other.”

Finally, I was able to allow myself the freedom to just be me - no pretense, no prescribed norms, no shame. In doing so, I’ve found myself in a place where I can love the things I love no matter their perceived masculinity or femininity. I’ve found a greater love for myself, which has allowed me to love others in ways I didn't know were possible. It has allowed me to find parts of myself that I didn’t know existed (for example, it turns out I love to dance! I would never allow myself to dance in public for fear of looking too fem, but now I enjoy the freedom and expression of movement). I’ve found a love for the art of drag (though I’ve never performed myself).

Why is it important to confront internalized homophobia?

From a personal growth perspective, it is important to face this internalization of shame as it often does block us from exploring life to its fullest. I personally went through a rather interesting period recently where I had to analyze every like, every preference, every hobby that I had through the lens of “Do I like this because I like this, or because society has told me to like or not like this?” By getting past this internalized shame, I have grown into a much more fully realized version of myself, which in turn allows others to know me for who I am truly.

Judgment is often a side effect of internalized homophobia. Although it is often done without any malice whatsoever, not confronting this internalized shame can cause us to place ourselves in one category and others in another. Although it is perfectly acceptable to have preferences and we are not required to like everyone, it is incredibly important to recognize the othering of people and address any statements of superiority.

Finally, as a community, LGBTQ people represent a fraction of the world population. We have to, as a marginalized group, be willing to stand with each other if we ever hope to find true equality. Although you may not fully understand the standpoint of another, we have to be willing to listen, to empathize, and to stand with their humanity.

Recognizing, evaluating, and working through internalized homophobia is a process. Although I have found myself in a much freer space, I believe it is important to keep my eyes open for remnants that can pop up from time to time. I accept my imperfections because they are growth opportunities, and I think that keeping this frame of mind will help to foster a place of truth, openness, and inclusivity in The Next Door Daddies.

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